As a school principal for a medium-sized New Hampshire high school, I am always looking for the best way to communicate with my school's stakeholders. There are so many choices these days including email, text, automated phone messages, social media and the good old-fashioned traditional letter in the mail.

While there may be a time and a place for each of these means of communication, the research suggests some are better than others when it comes to providing effective communication from the school.

In a recent eSchool News article, Meris Stansbury asks, "What does the research say about how parents and school communicate? Is there an overall preference?" In the article, Stansbury suggests that parents are looking for communication from schools to be "timely, targeted and personalized to their children or their interest areas."

The article referenced the latest data from the Speak Up Research Project, including this observation: Approximately one-third of parents surveyed indicated that "word of mouth" was the way they received most of their communication from schools. Is this the way school administrators what information delivered? Probably not.

When asked what areas parents wanted to know more about, these four broad categories were listed:

  • Recommendations about apps to use at home to support learning
  • Types of technology or workplace skills their child is learning
  • What type of technology they should have at home to support learning
  • How to work with teachers to improve learning opportunities

Interestingly, according to the survey, parents favored digital forms of communication such as email and text messaging at a high rate, and those preferences did not change based on demographics such as poverty, education level or community type.

When it comes to social media platforms such as Facebook, nearly 70 percent of parents reported having Facebook accounts, but only 16 percent of parents felt like it was an effective way for a school to communicate. In contrast, almost 40 percent of principals and nearly 80 percent of district communication officers find Facebook to be an effective tool.

"Parents are busy people who need convenient ways to be notified of things," Stansbury noted. "They want information pushed to them, rather than having to search for it, and for it to be timely and current. Last, since they are so busy, they want to receive high-priority information such as important information about their child, upcoming events or activities, and news."

In addition to providing important information, communication serves as the number one way that a school can "brand" itself to its stakeholders. In this MultiBriefs Exclusive this past summer, I wrote, "If my school is any indication of the national trend, fewer parents are taking the time to develop working relationships through the tried-and-true traditional means, such as coming in for a formal parent-teacher meeting or having a conversation over the phone.

"Parents get their information and develop their opinion on the effectiveness or quality of a school based on the efforts the school has taken to define their image through a variety of digital communication means. Now more than ever, a school needs to be mindful of how they portray themselves through communication."

Here are some communication tips that I have found work for me and my medium-sized New Hampshire high school in the suburbs of Boston.

1. A weekly e-blast newsletter to all stakeholders can be a great way to provide a "wrap-up" of the news and activities for the week. I regularly invite my staff to contribute news and articles, and every week I run a surprise set of "spotlight articles," highlighting individual students and staff members. You can view many of my school's recent newsletters here. I track how many people take the time to open my e-blasts and click on the various links by using an e-blast program like Constant Contact. Another great one is Mailchimp. When I post an e-blast, I have it set to automatically post the e-blast link on our school's social media pages.

2. Speaking of social media, my school has both a Twitter and a Facebook page. I have multiple contributors who can post content to these pages as the school. The Twitter page is automatically linked to Facebook, so anything tweeted from the school's account automatically shows up on the school's Facebook page. Taking this step to link accounts greatly increases the "reach" for the post — the number of individuals who will see it in their news feeds.

3. Many of my teachers and club advisers use the app Remind, a convenient, easy-to-use app that is used to send quick, simple text messages to any device for free.

4. There is still a place in our school for traditional mailings. I reserve these for very important announcements for which a traditional mailing would be appropriate, such as an invitation to an awards ceremony or a flyer for parent-teacher conference night. Sometimes, with all the digital communication out there, a traditional mailing can stick out for a parent in a way that a digital option may not.

It is important to note that regardless of which forms of communication you choose to use, it is a good idea to cross-post information using various forms. This gives parents the ability to stick with the forms they are most comfortable with, and that increases the likelihood that they will feel connected to the school.